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HindustanTimes Sat,23 Aug 2014

‘A leader must be a visionary’

Gaurav Choudhury , Hindustan Times  New Delhi, January 30, 2013
First Published: 23:01 IST(30/1/2013) | Last Updated: 23:08 IST(30/1/2013)

Ingersoll Rand, a $14.0 billion (about Rs. 77,000 crore) conglomerate has been in India for more than 100 years and has been a pioneer of innovation in the industrial technology and climate solutions space. The company’s India chairman and president, Venkatesh Valluri, spoke to HT on various aspects of leadership. Excerpts:

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How do you define a leader?

In my opinion, a leader is a visionary who is equipped with the skill set and knowledge to conceptualise and, further, to be able to pass on these traits to his team. He or she needs to be a thinker, with the ability to innovate, to take a risk and to conceive a solution or create a new market. Possessing the ability to engage people, collaborate and converge new technologies, products and services, a leader should be able to deliver solutions for the markets he or she is operating in.


What are the most important traits of a leader?

I think the “ability to conceptualise” is one of the most important assets of a leader today.  Another very important aspect of today’s leader is his regard for engagement with the society. The fundamental measurement of delivering economic value does not change, but when coupled with social engagement, it signifies the social value being created. That is becoming the new definition of a leader in the organisation.


As the leader of your company, how do you cultivate leaders?

Over the last two years we have been engaged in developing a world class leadership team that innovates, leads and builds world class solutions which effectively help advance the quality of life for emerging economies. We are infusing new talent as well as developing existing talent to create new opportunities not only for India but also allow our home grown technologies to be “Reverse Globalised”.


Can leadership be learnt? In other words, how can a manager become a leader?

In today’s world, a leader has to be able to address the needs of working and succeeding in a very ambiguous, uncertain and complex market place and yet be grounded with a value system that promotes authentic leadership. These, I believe are the new competencies required for this new world. The trick is to leverage their strengths while taking support in areas that may need development from their mentors and teams.


Do you think the role of business leaders has come under cloud — globally and domestically — of late?

I believe that an exemplary business leader is one who can foresee the changes that can occur in an environment domestically and globally and plan accordingly. A business leader is no longer an expert but has become the orchestrator for a different set of values and thought processes which were not present in the leadership lessons of the earlier decade. I guess they will always come under cloud when personal greed overtakes values and the sole purpose is to maximise individual gains and not be concerned about the sustainability of the business or the livelihood of thousands of employees who depend on it and the negative impact you make on the society or the environment.   


Leaders have to often carry the cross of other’s wrong doings and inefficiencies, the global banking sector today, for instance. What role can good leadership play to counter balance this image?

There is a lesson, I learnt early in life. You do not spend more than fifteen minutes in rejoicing a win or repenting a loss. Move on. If you are the chosen one to lead, understand that you are not there to earn points by hiding behind someone else’s inefficiencies of the past. The challenge for the leader is to steer the ship in a direction in which everyone believes in.

The mark of a good leader therefore, is to learn to be collaborative but also be able to make the final call by taking in all contradicting inputs. Not everyone will always be on the bus.  In such challenging times, leaders need to go back to the basics and ensure that they continue to display integrity, courage and authenticity. Motivating teams and discouraging despair and stagnation can help in continuous benchmarking.


What is your one-line leadership mantra?

To me, the new leadership mantra is backed by 5 Cs - Conceptualise, Converge, Collaborate, Create and Contribute. The core values of integrity and authenticity remain unchanged.


Who are the leaders that have inspired you?

I cannot name a single individual but I have taken lessons from a variety of people and how they operated in different environments. These have ranged from leaders in the armed forces, to corporate leaders, to people who have dedicated their lives to serve societies.


What is the biggest leadership lesson that you have learnt?

I strongly believe that one of the most important aspects of a leader is his regard for the society and his involvement in giving it back to the society. I think social responsibility is going to become a key deliverable of every company especially in emerging economies like India, and if a leader focuses on the customer, employee and society first, then shareholder value will automatically follow — but it is not going to be the other way around.


What is the best leadership decision you have taken?

Doing difficult roles others would not like to — the learning was tremendous.


What is the worst leadership decision you have taken?

I have not spent more than 15 minutes thinking about it — so I will not remember — but I will just say that I have made mistakes and I have learnt from them too!


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